Thursday, January 7, 2010

Judging Outside the Courtroom

By John DiMotto

When people think about judges, they usually picture a man/woman in a black robe sitting on the bench. However, sitting on the bench is just one aspect of the position. Another very important aspect of being a judge entails a judges involvement in legal education.

In Wisconsin, every lawyer is required to participate in continuing legal education - CLE. During every two year cycle, lawyers must obtain 30 CLE credits in order to maintain their license. The law is vibrant and changing and lawyers must keep up with those changes. These credits are obtained at seminars and conferences. The educators are law professors, members of the bar, experts in certain legal fields (medical malpractice, legal malpractice, products liability, etc) and judges.

It has been my experience, first as a lawyer attending CLE presentations and now as a judge, that lawyers have a great interest in attending a CLE seminar or conference where a judge is a member of the faculty. Lawyers want to hear from judges on various legal topics to get an insight into how the judges think and approach legal issues. It is a way to both learn the law and learn the judge.

I have been very involved in the education of judges - who must also obtain judicial credits - as well as lawyers. I love how the law is ever changing; I try to stay at the forefront of those changes; I eagerly participate in seminars and conferences as a faculty member to be of service to the betterment of the bar.

I usually involve myself in CLE presentations in light of my current assignment. Right now, I get involved in seminars that deal with guardianship matters and estate matters. For the past three years, the Milwaukee County Probate Court in conjunction with the Milwaukee Bar Association has annually put on a half day Guardianship seminar as well as a half day Estate seminar. The faculty has been comprised of the two probate judges, our probate court commissioner, our probate deputy registers in probate as well as attorneys with expertise in these area. We usually present on the "hot topics" of the day although we do review and update procedures in these areas. I have moderated these seminars and conducted them in a very interactive manner. I believe that learning is most effective when there is an exchange of ideas between the presenters and the audience. I always get the audience engaged - make them part of the presentation to bridge the gap between student and teacher. We learn best from each other. Education is a two way street. By participating in legal education, judges perform a tremendous service to the bar and the public that judges serve. By participating in legal education, judges take the pulse of the bar and the law.

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